Causes of suicide differ based on development levels

September - October, 2009  |  Volume 8, Issue 5

PHOTO: A man up close seated on the floor stares off camera; one in the background, out of focus, also seated on the floor
Photo by WHO/P. Virot

Impulse-control, substance use and post-traumatic
stress disorders are the strongest predictors of
suicide attempts in developing countries.

A large international mental health survey has found that suicide rates do not differ much based on a country's level of development, but the causes do.

Writing in the journal PLoS Medicine in August, a global team of researchers including Fogarty grantee Dr. Ronald Kessler of Harvard University, analyzed results from structured interviews conducted for the World Health Organization with nearly 110,000 people from 21 countries.

"Overall, mental disorders were equally predictive (of suicide) in developed and developing countries, with a key difference being that the strongest predictors of suicide attempts in developed countries were mood disorders, whereas in developing countries impulse-control, substance use and post-traumatic stress disorders were most predictive," the research concluded.

The paper also found that although depression is a strong predictor of suicide, it is because it leads to thinking of killing one's self, whether or not the act is carried out.

The findings also show that only half the people who have seriously considered suicide actually have a mental disorder.


Nock MK, Hwang I, Sampson N, Kessler RC, Angermeyer M, et al. (2009) Cross-National Analysis of the Associations among Mental Disorders and Suicidal Behavior: Findings from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. PLoS Med 6(8): e1000123.

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